Wednesday, December 13, 2006

newuniversal #1

newuniversal #1, February 2007, Marvel Comics
writer: Warren Ellis
artist: Salvador Larroca
colorist: Jason Keith
letterer: VC’s Rus Wooton
assistant editor: Daniel Ketchum
editor: Axel Alonso
EIC: Joe Quesada

I admit, I didn’t give The Disciples a fair shake yesterday. I can blame it on my fever, but the more I think about it, the more I blame my closed-mindedness. See, recently, an old friend asked me what kinds of comics I’ve been reading lately, and, thanks to this on-line experiment, my initial reaction was, “Well, everything!” Alas, that can’t be true. For the variety of comic books I’ve read for the past (nearly) six months – all of them have had something in common: they’ve all had covers that have intrigued me. Either the title of the series or the cover image of each issue I’ve reviewed has either appealed to my personal tastes or to my vision of what A Comic A Day should explore. As much as I’ve enjoyed experiencing comics I never would have experienced otherwise, I’m still searching for “the next read” through a filter. Unfortunately, The Disciples didn’t sift through.

Of course, I’m not taking my review back (I can’t, because I need to preserve the timestamp for this blog’s daily integrity), nor am I apologizing for it. Every kind of artwork, from painting to music, is subject to the tastes of its audience; everybody is not going to like everything. Somewhere, someone is looking at the Mona Lisa and thinking, “Well, it alright, I guess . . .” As I’ve explored before, at best, an artist can hope to create a connection-point with his/her audience, a window at which the creator and the connoisseur can meet each other, albeit briefly, and nod to one another in acknowledgement. A quick, “You exist, and I respect that,” and that’s it. For The Disciples, I failed to mention the scene that featured a young lady haunted by her toys. As a geek that has had a bedroom littered with action figures for as long as I can remember, I can understand the feeling. Believe me, when an Etch-a-Sketch starts writing you death threats on its own, that’s a feeling you want to shake in more ways than one.

Justice #1 was another comic book I read with my fanboy goggles firmly in place. (You can search the archives for that one.) Despite Archie Goodwin’s credentials, Justice, and the whole Marvel/New Universe concept, simply didn’t appeal to me. (All right, I confess, I owned an issue of DP7 as a kid. You got me.) The New Universe imprint only lasted for three years, but its impact has rippled into the 21st century, with its flagship characters appearing sporadically in various titles throughout the last decade (Peter David has a hard time letting go) and, just earlier this year, some commemorative specials revisiting the seemingly forsaken continuity. Those issues were obviously testing the waters for newuniversal, the Warren Ellis/Salvador Larroca vehicle that revamps the concept for a modern audience. An “Ultimate New Universe,” if you will. I can only assume the intended readership is a new one. If the New Universe titles had so many faithful followers, wouldn’t it still be around? The power of nostalgia, and the crafty combination of the Ellis/Larroca team, will sell this book right off the stands, all prejudgments aside. After all, I picked up. Willingly.

And boy, am I glad I did. First of all, I don’t know if I’ve seen Larroca’s work before, and this issue is an excellent example of his work with both the human form and architectural structure, as his pencils grace such well-known sites as the Golden Gate Bridge, the Empire State Building, and the Twin Towers. Yes, in this world, the Twin Towers still stand, and Paul McCartney was the Beatle squashed by a bullet, lamented by a living, breathing John Lennon. Prior to “the White Event” that changes everything, the main characters in this series are introduced with the usual Ellis realism, each either mortally wounded, drunk, or generally embittered. I would imagine that old fans of the New Universe would welcome these reintroductions knowingly, but at the same time, Ellis breathes new life into them so that new readers, like me, can understand or relate to them effortlessly. After the White Event, each of these characters are effected physically by the star brand that distinguishes the New Universe imprint, a symbol that becomes a tangible catalyst for events to come. That’s how you market a brand.

newuniversal (which I assume was intended to remain in the lower case) has very little in common with The Disciples, except for their roots in the paranormal – a strong enough connection, I suppose. I mention the two together only to elaborate: newuniversal begins with characters I can understand, with a foundation in a reality to which I relate. The Disciples is a high-end concept that, even by the second issue, was too steeped in its own lore for a newbie like me to comprehend. With an anchor to the real world (albeit a parallel one), I care about the changes brought about by forces unexplained. This is why magicians have hot assistants – so when all else fails, at least we had something nice to see. This is why science-fiction starts with the science – so when the fiction stretches the bounds of imagination, at least its inspiration was something proven within the realm of possibility.

Transition: Is it possible for me to pry my fanboy goggles off? I’ll explore this aspiration in my secondly quarterly report, due out at the beginning of next year. Until then, I can’t promise that I won’t dismiss a few more books, even if only inadvertently. If anyone out there is actually reading this, maybe they can suggest a few titles of interest . . .? When this experiment started, I mentioned that the effort would be a two-way street, and now, more than ever, I need your help. The topic of today’s review proves, not every concept can be universal, but when broached from a different perspective, it can appear new. If I can breath new life into an old comic book with my pigeonholed perspective, I’ve done something right.

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